Sikkim High Court Issues Notices to the State, Union of India and Directs Respondents to Immediately Ensure Adequate Stocks of Lifesaving Drugs as a Result of HRLN Sikkim’s Maternal Mortality Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

GANGTOK – The Honorable Sikkim High Court has issued notices and asked the State and Centre Government to account for the inadequate, unacceptable, inaccessible, and low quality maternal health care in Sikkim. The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by HRLN advocate Doma T. Bhutia, tells the story of four women who lost their lives or their newborn babies as a result of inadequate maternal health care. The late Smt. Bina Lachenpa required special delivery services that her local Sub Centre could not provide. After being referred to the PHC in Chungthang, the District Hospital in Mangan, and Gangtok STNM Hospital, doctors sent Smt. Bina Lachenpa to Sikkim Manipal Hospital at Tadong. After visiting five facilities, Smt. Bina Lachenpa lost her baby as a direct result of prolonged obstructed labor and delayed medical intervention. Although she has a Below the Poverty Line (BPL) card, the Hospital asked Smt. Bina Lachenpa to pay for her medication and hospital fees. In addition to individual stories of maternal and infant mortality, the PIL outlines specific deficiencies in National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) implementation. The Respondents have not ensured 24/7 delivery facilities, access to blood banks, adequate transportation and communication in rural areas, hygienic and functional health facilities, newborn care capacity, awareness raising programmes, and maternal death audits and reviews. In failing to ensure the maternal health needs of women in Sikkim, the Respondents have violated Article 21 (Right to Life) and Articles 14 and 15 (Right to be free from Discrimination) of the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, the PIL enumerates myriad violations of international human rights norms including the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment, the right to health, the right to non-discrimination, and the right to maternal health. The Hon’ble High Court found “that various Govt. sponsored schemes, namely, National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) and other schemes have not been implemented in the right spirit. There are also averments regarding non-availability of life saving drugs in most of the Government Hospitlas/Health Centres…” Accordingly, the Court asked the Respondents for their reply and directed the Respondents to “ensure availability of life saving drugs in all the Hosptials/Health Centres within a period of 2 (two weeks), if not already available.” As a part of a nation-wide maternal mortality litigation strategy, HRLN will continue to hold the Centre Government and the State of Sikkim accountable for violations of the right to life, health, and non-discrimination. The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) is a collective of lawyers and social activists dedicated to the use of the legal system to advance human rights in India and the sub-continent. To learn more visit hrln.org. Contact: Advocate Doma T. Bhutia Human Rights Law Network, Sikkim Email: hrlnsikkim@rediffmail.com or Sarita Barpanda Director, Reproductive Rights Unit Human Rights Law Network Email: sarita@hrln.org